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Friday, 25 March 2011


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Just what is an "edition"?

Is it a particular size? A particular crop?All printed in a particular time frame? Any print of that negative?

If I print a "limited edition" of 8x10's can I then print a zillion 5x7's?

An edition is a promise, wouldn't you say? It's a promise that you won't flood the market with more prints than you say you will. As with any sort of promise, people can fudge, people can lie, or people can be upright and tell the truth and play it by the book.


Don't feel bad,Mike. Avedon was probably busy doing something he felt was more important than answering your questions on the phone.

Edward Weston marked various prints as if part of an edition, say 1/50, but then rarely sold more than a few. I think Pepper #30, perhaps his most often printed image, was printed by him about 12-15 times. Times they are a-changin'...or not.

"Avedon was probably busy doing something he felt was more important"

No, I'm pretty sure he was just sitting there talking to me through his intermediary.


Wouldn't $1600 for the second print make more sense? I think I must be avoiding things I need to be doing.

It's really fun getting snubbed at art galleries in Tampa, Fla. Same situation, beautiful young women clad in black in stilleto heels. I radiate uncool and scowl at the expensive artwork on the walls. I usually attempt to engage the smartly coiffed ladies in conversation. They typically spend about 20 seconds with me before wandering off. I am pegged as pariah from Poughkeepsie even though my native town is Omaha.

I should have said $1600 for the second set of prints.

Escalating price structure: http://www.johnpaulcaponigro.com/store/price-structure.php

Ansel Adams has had gallery representation at various times. And generally did not limit his print editions. Therefore there exist reputable galleries that will deal with open-edition prints.

Of course, if one is not Ansel Adams, one may find different rules at galleries. If the two galleries that will talk to you at all both insist on limited editions from you, well, there you are.

Say, are there any good galleries selling photos in Minneapolis? I could go look and see if they have people who can recognize from their peripheral vision that I'm not worth talking to. (Seriously, I'm interested in who is selling what in Minneapolis. Where do I go to find out?)

"First five prints, $650 each. Numbers 6–10, $1,800 each. Prints 11–15, $4,000 each. Prints 16–20, $10,000 each. Prints 21–25, $16,000 each. So I'd say the edition was limited to 25. Price: "Up to $16,000."

Roooight, that's how there are bubbles in asset markets then?

Mike, what you describe occurs not just in the world of fine art, of course. A book author who had a million-copy non-fiction bestseller for his first try was terribly unhappy. "I meant to write a book that was read by only three people, but the right three," he whined to me, his editor, shattering my exuberance at this lucky, lucrative outcome. From his considerable experience of how the world worked, those three elite readers would distrust anything popular. The widespread dogma of elitism surprises me constantly. There is a cool coffee roaster in my laid-back town, but the baristas let me know it is entirely beneath them to pour coffee for a round-heel wearing fleece. Even after all these years, I don't know which is the best audience to aim for: the many or the few.

It seems to me that the print sales from TOP differ from the "deep pocket" and "black polo neck" gallerista sort of acquisitions. Much as we'd all like to cash in on this, it must be hugely rewarding to the artists selling through TOP - peer approval, by photographers, for photographers. And I think the purchasers know the sort of value that they are buying into.

The "willowy bored gallery fauna" know that comfortably dressed people from the midwest are too smart to pay gallery prices for crappy art.

I guess when you are a *star* you can get away with that kind of behavior. lol

By comparision, in the audiophile world, it is usually fairly easy to have personal contact with owner/engineer.

With a limited edition printing -- might it make more sense to make the 25th print (or what ever) the $1,000 print and the #1
print the $25,000 print. To me the first print would be worth more then the last print. Also for the first 5 the price would be determined by the demand of the sale of the other prints.
If the demand was really that great why limit your last prints to a set price.

@Jeff: Only 12-15 for that picture of Weston! Really? No, I am not challenge you, Jeff. I just wonder. It is contact print and using a lamp. I guess not much burn-and-dodge can be done and would be done at all. It shall be easy to print quite a bit.

Mike, there was something inherently wrong with Avedon's communication scenario. He should have talked to his first assistant, then the first assistant to the second assistant, the second assistant to the third assistant, and then only the third assistant could say something to you. And vice versa. Damn! Those people don't know a thing about order!


The question remains, did you get permission or not Mike? Personally I don't think it's some kind of arrogance on Avedon's part, more like a "what else am I paying my third assistant for?" kind off thing. Personally I'm not to fond of the photographer assistant relation. To me photography is a one person no contact sport, more like darts than like golf, so I could not use an assistant, since why would I employ another potential to mess up a perfect shoot if/when I can do that quite well on my own.

Greetings, Ed

a famous man is not necessarily a great man

I remember my first trip to New York and I had a list of galleries to visit so that I could see actual prints from some of my favorite photographers—instead of book reproductions. I don't think anyone in any gallery spoke to me. And the best was Jay Maisel's gallery, where there was no one not to speak to me, just an empty white room on an upper floor full of his wonderful dye transfer prints.

Guess it's why I've never been interested in being part of the "art world." Too much phoniness and snobishness.

Have a friend who's an artist, and he asked me to shoot a reception for one of his shows, and I must say the pretentiousness was so thick you could cut it with a knife.

I guess the idea of a lot of folk who are into the "art scene" is that it's a way of showing you are superior to the lumpen-populace, because you are more sensitive, aware, intellectual, hip, etc, etc.

Like you, I'll just stay me and be unstylish and unhip. All that kind of posing is too much work for me.

I have another suggestion for an escalating price structure: use the f:scale (1, 1.4, 2, 2.8, ...) as a multiplier factor.
On the 3rd picture the price is already twice the base price, and if you sold 15 you would get 181x base price.

Now that's photo-artistic pricing!...

Oh! and I would always make a limited edition of 32 (f:32768).

I recommend this book: "The $12 Million Stuffed Shark - The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art" by Don Thompson.

The Avedeon story really makes me wonder if the reason he had so many assistants was because he really wasn't any good at dealing with real people.* Sort of puts him on the 'distancing and observing' end of the photographic spectrum. Sure, his 'process'** needed lots of people assisting to work, but this makes me wonder if he chose that method of working because he couldn't make other methods work. In any case, wow, that kind of status signaling is pretty astonishing.


*pretty common problem among art majors. Sometimes it's very hard to have a real conversation with someone who's life is optimized for dealing with images.
**from what I've picked up. I'm not an expert.

I always want to stick it to the folks who dismiss me as not a sales prospect - make them know they screwed up and misread me - but unfortunately they didn't, and I can't afford any of it.

Though I will say that there's an excellent store in St Paul called Willy's American Guitars - I used to go there as an obviously broke college kid, and they would thrust $5000-10,000 guitars into my hands, and let me sit and play them for as long as I wanted... They have since gotten several purchases from me, in large part because of this attitude (as well as their excellent selection and knowledge). In contrast, there's a guitar store here in Madison which I won't go to because every instrument in the place has a little sign on it saying not to touch without permission. I don't plan as a grown man to ask permission to shop for your product.

So some people get it.

KeithB - I have seen several internet forum conversations (in the nature photography area) on limited edition prints, and a lot of them have talked about editions being based on a particular size. So they may have a limit of 100 20x30's, AND 100 5x7's, etc. A lot of times this is so they can sell some large "art" prints, and still sell the image for things like greeting cards.

Seems to me from seeing this talk, that most of the finagling is because they don't really want to do limited editions, but feel that people pay more, or will buy more, if they do. So they think that, even if they only sell 5 copies, they'll get more money if they say that it's 5 out of 100, than if it's an open edition.

I have no clue whether or not this is true.

Mike, The irony of your proposed price structure is that for resale purposes the lower numbered ones are generally worth more. Your pricing favors the early buyer over you.

I occasionally show my photos in galleries...not in NYC, of course...I'm from the mid-west too. I had a print in a group show in Detroit a couple years ago. During the opening the gallery owner introduced me to one of her regular buyers. We had a conversation that eventually came around to limited editions. When I started to explain that I didn't do limited editions because I feel they are counter to the nature of the medium of photography the buyer turned her back to me in mid-sentence and walked away. I decided she really wasn't someone I wanted owning any of my prints.

It's a given that work sold in galleries is in limited editions. Just check for yourself the blog by collectors DLK who are reporting from hundreds of shows each year. By the way, besides being a source of seldom-disclosed economics, that blog provides some of the most informed commentary on photography on the web.

What's more interesting is to look at the photographers who are selling their prints through their stores (I use this term to differentiate their galleries from curated galleries - no disrespect, it does really take commitment). They had the choice. As far as I know, the most successful all chose to do limited editions.

The increasing price structure is just proof of how artificial prices are in the art world. Where else would things get more expensive as they become less rare? Of course, that's not what's happening; it's an incentive to buy the print and buy it now while the price is close to what the print is actually worth, and yes, I doubt anybody who is using this pricing ever sells anything at the level 2 prices.

Quite a few years ago, I bought a local Bay Area photographer's print from a gallery here. His pricing scheme was: first 5 prints, $500. Then for each subsequent five prints, the price went up another $500. Certainly a great incentive for a buyer to make up their mind quickly.. otherwise face another $500 on the tab.

""Avedon was probably busy doing something he felt was more important"

'No, I'm pretty sure he was just sitting there talking to me through his intermediary.'"

Which begs the question of just who was expected to be impressed - Mike or Uncle Dickie?

I have seen quite a few exhibitors who use a sliding scale based on volume similar to that which you suggest. And som refuse to ever sell #1 and/or the last number in the edition.

All part of the lure of packaging I guess. So, is the 'Art Market' really 'art' or just uncommissioned commercial photography.

"I guess when you are a *star* you can get away with that kind of behavior. lol

By comparision, in the audiophile world, it is usually fairly easy to have personal contact with owner/engineer."

In my experience you can talk to people engaged in the product at companies like Zeiss or Rolls Royce (aero engines) as well. I suspect that many manufacturing firms are like that if you happen to get the right number and have the interest.

Then there's always a Richard Prince floating about... until... "here comes the law..."



"The increasing price structure is just proof of how artificial prices are in the art world. Where else would things get more expensive as they become less rare?"

No, I think you've got that backwards. Yes, they're becoming more common out in the world as more copies sell, but the supply is dwindling, and that's the salient point. When you reach the 25th print of an edition of 25, that's when the supply is lowest and the print is the rarest. The fact that there are 24 prints already out there isn't important, because those aren't available for purchase.


I think Fibonacci numbers (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fibonacci_number ) should be used - 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233, 377, 610, 987 ..., where the first copy, with the value of 0 will stay with the author. Then, the 1 will get the value we want to start with. We talking photographs, don't we?


Dear Keith,

I don't make it a habit of doing limited editions (with the exceptions of the collaborations Laurie and I did: http://ctein.com/Collaboration_portfolio.htm ) but I've printed for enough clients that do that I have some modest familiarity with what's acceptable.

First, understand that there are legal issues involved here. When you offer something for sale and claim it's a limited edition of so many copies, you're making a representation to the potential buyer. Not honoring that representation is fraud. Enough famous and not-so-famous artists have played fast and loose that quite a few states have specific laws around this. I know both New York and California do; I believe Illinois does.

I am not familiar with what the laws require, so what I say about common practices may in fact be in violation of the law, which may be stricter. All taken with a grain of salt, okay?

Basic rule: put yourself in the buyer's shoes. It's accepted that an artist will do a small number of artist proofs in addition to the numbered series. Emphasis on the word SMALL– not just in absolute numbers but relative to the print run. Somewhere between one and five artist proof copies seems to be common… but if your entire numbered edition was only 10 prints, how happy do you think buyers would be to discover that there were another five signed prints in existence?

The general rule is that it's okay to do separate editions if there is a substantial change in size or media or appearance. In other words, you might sell signed and numbered dye transfer prints but unlimited numbers of signed chromogenic or digital prints (as Jim Marshall did). So far as size goes, changing the area by a factor of two appears to be safe. In other words, your 5x7 would not compete with your 8x10. Less than that? I think you're getting into a gray area there. You do not want to be in a gray area. That's where arises the potential for suits from unhappy buyers.

A different crop? Well, it better make the photograph look really different, not just be a refinement on what you did before. Again, think of it from the viewpoint of a buyer. Is it going to strike them as a substantially different work or is it just going to look like a runaround to dilute the run?

This is the common sense of it among reputable and serious professionals. Whether it is sufficient to satisfy consumer and fraud laws in a specific state? I don't know. Any attorneys out there with knowledge about this?

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

This post had me thinking of all the delightful terms used in hand pulled printing like Bon à Tirer, A.P. etc.
Cancellation Proof reminded me of a series of photos done with X's scored on the negatives before printing. It was some years ago. Do you remember who that was? They were actually quite good looking.

The half-stop scheme is clever, but the exponential growth involved becomes daunting quickly when we're talking about something like a TOP print sale, or even a real hit image.

For example, if the first print sale copy of Canyon Reflections had sold for $10, and you'd gone by half-stop increments from there, i think the sticker price for the 86th copy would've been just under $25 million. (I might be off by half a stop one way or the other, but that wouldn't really change the dauntingness much). (Formula for cost of print n: 10 * 2^((n-1)/4) .)

If Adams had used the half-stop scheme for Hernandez, starting at $1, the sticker price for the 800th print would've been in excess of $10^60.

I always marveled how I was essentially invisible in NY photo galleries in the 80s & 90s- and so very visibly noticed in high end clothing stores, to the point of being followed.

Avedon actually sued a complete, no name band for reproducing one of his photos on their flyers posted on East Village light poles announcing their gig at a no name club. Even the 3rd assistant who saw it and told him, couldn't believe it.

PS- He died before it got to court.

"...a sort of English-eccentric fashion sense—floral print skirts and headbands ..."

Hey, some of us like that sort of thing, enough to marry the owner of such fashion sense....

I'm really enjoying these articles on galleries and print rarity -- it goes a long way to explain the way I get treated in some of these galleries (as well as why as how photography as art is valued).

The question i would have then is, how would you value a new artist / photographer who has no reference point?


FWIW, I've never been given the 'gate' in San Francisco. Everyone seems happy to talk, even tho I look like I couldn't afford a roll of film, much less a photographic print. The Geary street galleries have all been nice to me, and I especially remember a young Asian man at Modern Book who couldn't have been more enthusiastic about talking at length regarding all the people they represented. It's interesting to me, because I do some business in San Francisco a few times a year, and altho I like the city, I've never found the people to be warm or friendly at all (gotta go to Petaluma for that!), but maybe the gallery salespeople are used to cyber-millionaires with big buck showing up in shorts, sandals, and hoodies!

I always get lots of attention in galleries. I think they are worried I will steal something.

I happen to be a fan of Roman Loranc's work. It started when I was in Yosemite about 8 years ago and the Ansel Adams Gallery had an exhibit of his work. The first print I viewed was an 8x10 of "Two Hearted Oak." I just loved it, but at $600 it was more that I really could justify. I continued around the exhibit and saw many others I liked but kept going back to "Two Hearted Oak." As I passed a glass case I noticed a book by Roman and I sign mentioning that you could get a limited edition book of his work and one of six photos for $400. I asked the sales person what were the choices for the print that came with the book. Long story short, one of them was "Two Hearted Oak." So the I figured it must me a nice 5x7 or some size close to that. Upon asking the sales person what was the size of the photo, he replied about 11x14 in size matted to 16x20. So my question to him was why is the 8x10 priced at $600 and the book with 11x14 priced at only $400. His comment was that the 8x10 was a smaller numbered edition. I kind of scratched my head and then plunked down my credit card and bought the book and "Two Hearted Oak" print that I now pass and enjoy every day. Roman also put out a second book and print set a few years ago and again, I bought myself another wonderful image. The whole editioning thing is a bit absurb as far as I am concerned.

As a side comment about "Moonrise over Hernandez," I remember researching this and I actually think the number that I recall was 1041 total images of that photo, although I have seen figures as high as 1300. I have always thought of limited editions in photography to absurd, but that is just my opinion.

The first time I heard of escalating price structures was when visiting Galen Rowell's Mountain Light gallery in Emeryville. (Since closed, though the Bishop gallery is still open carrying on the legacy of the Rowells.) His Rainbow Over The Potala Palace had become such a hit that it merited a very steep escalating structure where at the time a relatively small print was ~$16,000 or so and the next one sold after that was even more. His limited edition work does have an escalating scale depending on how many prints are left in the edition, though most of it seems unavailable now. Mountain Light does sell a fair number of unlimited edition works by Galen as well.

I've had good experiences with most San Francisco photography galleries. Usually they're polite to me until I mention I shoot digital rather than film and then they decide I'm not worth talking to :-)


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